This excerpt from Christmas Notes and Queries (A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, etc. – 1886) describes the English tradition of plum puddings at Christmas.
Modern Plum Puddings.—
In olden times the good housewife was accustomed to pride herself on her Christmas pudding. She either made it herself or at all events superintended its making, from a receipt long possessed by her family.
The making of the pudding was a great event, and every member of the family, from the eldest down to the youngest baby took a turn at stirring the mixture, in order that he or she might have good luck during the coming new year.
In these modern days, to a great extent, all this is altered, and people buy a Christmas pudding at a shop, as they would any other article for domestic consumption. At this season of the year it is quite a sight to visit the shops and see the immense piles of puddings which are there exhibited.
The puddings are cooked in cloths and white basins, and on the bottoms of the basins are marked the selling prices. The puddings being already well cooked, require but a slight additional boiling, and much work is thus saved to the household. Not only do people buy puddings for themselves, but it has become the fashion to make presents of them to friends and acquaintances, as the puddings furnished by some of the well-known caterers bear a high character for quality and manufacture. Other puddings are preserved in hermetically sealed tins, and these are sent to India and the Colonies, where, although Christmastide falls during the warm season, the inhabitants consider it to be their duty to keep up the feast in the orthodox manner.
It is a curious fact, perhaps worth noting, that her Majesty’s subjects in India who are not Christians, and consequently do not attend the religious services at Christmas, have, however, got into the fashion of procuring Christmas fare, and are amongst the best customers for the puddings sent out from England.
In the shops in London may also be seen large stacks of jars of mince-meat of various sizes, and innumerable cakes of shortbread and Pitcaithly bannocks ornamented with various emblems appropriate to the season. A visit to one or other of the several best-known establishments is one of the sights of the holidays, and the crowds which beset some of the shops purchase goods to an immense amount. I remember one Christmas Eve in the afternoon passing one of those places and, seeing the porter patting up the shutters, thinking some one had died suddenly, I inquired what was the matter, when the man said, ” We have sold out everything, and are shutting up, as it is of no use keeping open the shop when there is nothing left to dispose of.”
Whether it be cheaper to make your puddings, mince-meat, &c., at home or to purchase them ready made is a point hard to decide, and differences of opinion will always exist on this subject as well as on other important matters.
George C. Boase.